Over on Karen Huber’s blog a few days back, I mentioned a term I snapped up somewhere, an alternative to the two writing poles of plotters and pantsers — the puzzler. Several people in the comments were quite enthusiastic about the term, so I figure it just might deserve a blog post of it’s own, rather than a mention hidden in some comments somewhere.
I always knew I was more of a plotter than a pantser. Some of my writer friends can take a couple of prompts and immediately start writing a story. I can write stories from prompts too, many of my stories have been written that way, but I just can’t do the “immediate” part. I have to brainstorm and play with ideas first. More than anything else, I need to know the ending before I start. If I don’t, I invariably get bogged down somewhere in the middle and don’t know where to go from whatever corner I wrote myself into.
At the same time, however, plotting out every single chapter and every single plot twist before I start writing is nearly as foreign to my nature as spontaneously writing a complete story from a single first line. There are a couple of short stories I’ve written that I plotted out almost completely before writing them, most notably “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide.” That was necessary for that story, because each of the disasters had to follow the one preceding it, and the whole arc had to have a very strong, increasing sense of inevitability.
But plotting every single scene like that for a whole novel? It would drive me crazy.
My usual process starts with brainstorming basic plot, characters and setting, and doing the initial research. (I rarely write anything that doesn’t require research.) As I brainstorm, I jot down ideas for potential scenes, which I might start organizing in some kind of orderly fashion. But before I can get from the beginning to the end, one or another of these scenes I’m brainstorming grabs me, and I have to start writing it. And then another, and another. While I’m writing these random scenes, I also start getting to know my characters better, which gives me a better idea of the kinds of complications that would fit their personalities. And so I start jumping backwards and forwards and filling in the blanks, puzzling out the plot as I go.
To a plotter, the process probably sounds very random. But neither am I writing by the seat of my pants. I can’t even start without a bunch of notes on characters and scenes and plot arc and usually a fair amount of research.
I cannot claim to have come up with the term, but when I googled it to try to find the brilliant originator, all I found were other writers who also heard the term “puzzler” at some point or another and happily adopted it as their own. Me too.
Anyway, in my own puzzling way, I got another 5000 words on Chameleon in a Mirror completed, despite various other projects. (Although, to be perfectly honest, not so puzzling this time around, since it’s a rewrite from scratch.) Chameleon is now coming in at 86,000 words, of a projected 100,000. Not much more to go! Maybe with the finish line in sight, I can pick up the pace a bit and finish by the end of the month. That would be a great new goal.